‘I love children and I love people so much’, says Hanna Buhaiova, a Ukrainian teacher and businesswoman. Hanna was changing her city – running her family club for kids and adults. Languages, arts, crafts, games – young and mature club participants were busy and happy. So were Hanna and her staff.
But the Russian invasion destroyed everything. Hanna had to stop the work she enjoyed so much and flee her homeland. Our guest tells what helped her to survive and what are her hopes for the future.
CAPTION: Hanna Buhaiova (above) from Ukraine.
– Journalist Olesya Vasylenko interviews fellow refugee Hanna Buhaiova from Kharkiv, now living in Co. Kerry:
Hanna please tell us a little about yourself.
Hello. I am Hanna from Ukraine. I come from a family of ethnic Ukrainians who were forcibly relocated in the 1930s to special settlements in the remote areas of the Soviet Union by Stalin. So my Mom was born in Siberia. After deportation, her parents – my grandparents – were sent back to the eastern part of Ukraine, to a small town in Kharkiv region where I was born.
So, I spent my happy childhood in that small town. There I finished school and dreamt about my future adult life in the big city – Kharkiv. So, after finishing school I went there to fulfill my dreams and to start my adult life.
You mentioned Kharkiv. It is a very beautiful Ukrainian city. Could you please tell more about it?
Kharkiv is one of the biggest Ukrainian cities. It is located in the east of Ukraine. It is an exceptionally beautiful and developed contemporary city. It is a major industrial, cultural, scientific centre in Ukraine. Kharkiv can boast of its big number of educational institutions, universities, more than 60 higher educational establishments, schools, theatres, cinemas and its impressive network of educational research institutions.
It is a lovely place where lots of events, exhibitions, festivals are held every week actually. It is the city which hosts lots of foreign professionals, people of culture and science. It is painful to talk about my lovely favorite city, my homeland. And, as you can hear, I am talking about it in the present time. I am telling it IS beautiful, it IS lovely, for me it IS in my heart.
• Kharkiv before the war: The most under-rated city in Europe, said this visitor in 2019.
But as you know now it is being attacked with Russian bombs and rockets. And actually there is not one educational institution, school or university which is not damaged at the moment by Russian bombs and rockets unfortunately. But it is alive for me at this moment and will be forever.
Tell us about your profession. What did you do in Ukraine?
I had the job of my dreams after I graduated from two universities, firstly in teaching, secondly in finance. I combined these two professions to do one job and I had my own business. I have two children but my business was my third child. I ran a family club in Ukraine where we provided our customers with services like extra-curriculum activities for kids after school, some language courses, arts, crafts.
Why did you choose these two professions?
It was not accidental because I dreamt about teaching and I dreamt about something creative, something I could do on my own, where I could implement my ideas and my vision of education. Because I love children and I love people so much. I love watching their growth and their progress in everything. In my club we provided courses, for example, for adults who started learning French or English from zero.
It was amazing to see how the person makes progress day by day. How happy the kids were with the results they get in arts, crafts or languages. This is because I had very good staff, very professional teachers in my club. We felt like a family, like one team, and not only with my staff, but also with my clients. We interacted a lot. We spent lots of events together and played lots of smart games together. We spent a lot of time developing our personalities and the personalities of our customers. So my business was my love, it was my child. This is what I can say about it.
And now unfortunately this job of your dream was stopped and destroyed by Russian invasion.
Yes, that’s it. You know I can’t say it without a deep pain in my heart because premises which I rented for my family club are still in Ukraine. They are still there and everything I bought – all the games, all the materials, all the furniture – were purchased with love. They are partially damaged unfortunately. So this is my pain. The premises are empty now, but before they were full of people, full of children, full of joy, full of happy sounds, happy voices… So of course it’s very painful, and I understand lots of people feel the same.
What did you feel when you heard the first explosions in your city?
I remember that moment. First of all it was unbelievable. But maybe I couldn’t realise at that moment it happened actually. I felt disappointment. Disappointment in the people who started all of this. I can’t name them people because they are heartless. I can’t even describe it. It’s so difficult for me. So disappointment, yes. After I felt angry. Then I felt desperate. Desperate because I could not stop it. I couldn’t influence that horrible war after understanding it really happened. We could see the evidence of it.
And concerned for my family I felt responsibility to do something – to take action and to save my children’s lives. It’s really hard to describe the mixture of feelings I had. It was like a bit of a mess in my soul at that moment. Maybe now I can realise it. I can think more and understand what happened then.
So you decided to leave your country?
Yes. After a week of spending time in a basement and watching the horror of the war, watching the bodies of dead people on my street, watching the awful conditions of living in the basement, I decided to leave to save my children first of all. So, I packed what I could in my suitcases, took my children to the station and left Ukraine.
It was hard to leave at that moment because the city was being bombed and we couldn’t take a taxi since it was very dangerous. And when we were waiting for evacuation train, Russians attacked the centre of the city with rockets badly. The walls of the station were shaking and it was horrible. And people were scared of this. That is the moment I remember.
When we got on the train I couldn’t even feel relief. I saw the children and women had a tremor in their hands because of this fear. The conditions were really bad because it was 15 people in each little compartment including little babies and older children.
And there were lots of foreign students in the train who had to leave and who shared their emotions with me. They too cried because they had to leave Ukraine, had to leave our beautiful city Kharkiv because of this horrible war. And during the time they studied at our university they loved Ukraine as their homeland. And they really cried. For me it was the most touching moment when I left my homeland.
What helped you to survive and stay strong during those difficult weeks?
Well, maybe the feeling of responsibility because I have two children. I had to be strong, I had to show them my courage. I had to be brave enough to move forward. Because the most precious thing in our life is our life actually. And I explained to them that once you stay alive you can do anything. You can be a real human, you can develop yourself, your strong sides.
I believe that our homeland Ukraine will survive and win this horrible war. Actually, I am sure we already won. Everyone can see it. So, maybe only my belief and my responsibility helped me to survive. Understanding that the truth is on our side also helped me to move forward.
And what are your hopes and expectations for the future?
My hopes and expectations for my country is returning all our Ukrainian areas. Because this is the historical truth. Only this way we will finish this war. It’s banishing all Russian [occupants] from Ukrainian areas. Also, I believe that all our beautiful amazing modern cities will be rebuilt and revived.
For my family I hope to reunite with my husband who is still in Ukraine for very important reasons. For people who are currently staying in Ukraine – I wish them to stay safe and alive. Once we are alive we can do everything. There are no borders for Ukrainians because we are full of dignity, we are real hard workers and we love our motherland. If we stay alive, if we survive, we will do everything. We will rebuild our beautiful country, I believe that strongly.
And for people who are not Ukrainians, for people who support us, who help us in these hard times – I wish them lots of love and only peaceful life. I wish they never know what the war is, never see its face, never feel its smells, never hear its voices and sounds. Be happy and loved.
What would you wish to the readers of Changing Ireland Magazine?
I wish them lots of love. I wish them peaceful life as I said before. I want to express my huge gratitude to all of them, to every Irish person for their big support, for their understanding, for their lovely admiring smiles in the streets, for their hugs, for any help they do for us. I am really, very grateful. They are amazing people. It’s an amazing country and I hope they all will be happy.
Thank you very much for this interesting interview. I sincerely wish that your hopes and expectations come true.
Thank you very much. And the same for you.